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Russia intensifies offensive in Severodonetsk to take Lugansk province

Russia does not see Zelensky as "setting the necessary conditions" for resuming peace talks, after he said Russian troops would have to fall back to their pre-24 February positions
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REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   Service members of the pro-Russian troops inspect the streets during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine 7 April 2022

Russian troops have concentrated in recent hours around the city of Severodonetsk in Lugansk province in eastern Ukraine, where they are carrying out an offensive aimed at closing the siege of the city and controlling the province. Severodonetsk is one of the main key urban centres in this region of the Donbas, which for now is under Ukrainian control.

According to the governor of Lugansk, Sergei Gaidai, the Russian army is attacking "on a large scale in all directions" with air strikes, missiles, artillery and mortars. At least 15,000 civilians remain in the city, and, according to Gaidai, "the situation is very difficult and, unfortunately, is only getting worse". "The Russians concentrated almost all their forces, in particular 25 tactical battalion groups to take the city. The number of bombardments increased considerably. Fighting is taking place in the surrounding villages. It is very difficult to evacuate people," he added. In a video posted on Telegram, the governor claimed that "the aim of the Russian army is to wipe Severodonetsk off the face of the earth".

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AFP/AFP  -  Map of Ukraine showing the latest Russian troop movements.

According to British intelligence, control of this city would allow Russia to dominate the entire Lugansk region, and to achieve this, Russian troops must advance 25 kilometres from Ukrainian-controlled territory, a distance that separates the northern and southern axes of this operation. For now, these assumptions appear to be distant due to the "marginal advances" made by the Russian army, which has only managed to advance as far as the town of Zolote, while fighting continues in Lyman, according to data provided by the Institute for the Study of War. Russian troops have also managed to advance towards the town of Popasna to support the encirclement of the town of Severodonetsk.

In addition, Russia continues to maintain blockades of key Black Sea ports, such as Odessa, which has not registered any "significant activity" in commercial shipping. As a result, and by not supplying export by land, grain supplies are piling up in storage and cannot be exported, driving up prices.

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AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV  -  Ukrainian soldiers in a trench on the front line with Russian troops in the Lugansk region on 11 April 2022.

In this regard, Ukraine is accusing Russia of "stealing" Ukrainian grain from the port of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, based on images released by Maxar Technologies, a company with several satellites on the ground. These images show two ships docked next to what appears to be grain flowing out into an open hold. Zelenski has claimed that Russia is carrying out this "gradual theft" of Ukrainian foodstuffs, which he also accuses of selling them by taking advantage of the conflict. 

Meanwhile, the progress in resuming peace talks is decreasing. Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky has rejected such negotiations with Russia unless Moscow agrees to withdraw its troops to the positions they held before 24 February, when the invasion began. "It is true that we must also recover the Donbas region and the Crimean peninsula, but at the expense of this, I first want to recover the pre-24 February state, and then I will sit down at the negotiating table," said the Ukrainian leader.

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REUTERS/MARKO DJURICA  - Ukrainian military inspect the area in front of a residential apartment building after it was hit by shelling as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kiev, Ukraine, 15 March 2022.

However, in the eyes of the Kremlin these statements are "not constructive" if peace negotiations are to resume. "It is very difficult to assess these words as constructive. I would like to remind that Ukraine has actively participated in the negotiations since the first day of the special military operation and has not set any conditions," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko. "If he is now setting conditions, it makes us doubt the sincerity of his desire to find a peaceful solution," he added, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.